MONTREAL (AP) — The Quebec Soccer Federation says if Sikh kids want to play soccer while wearing a turban there's an easy solution: They can play in their own yard.
Quebec is the only province in Canada that has balked at allowing turbans on the field. As a result, about 100 to 200 youngsters are unable to play.
Brigitte Frot, director general of the provincial association, says the reason to maintain the ban is for player safety. She was asked what she would tell a 5-year-old boy in a turban who shows up to register to play soccer with his friends.
"They can play in their backyard, but not with official referees, not in the official rules of soccer," Frot replied. "They have no choice."
When asked how many injuries have actually been linked to turbans Frot said there are none. She said her group is taking its cues from soccer's international governing body, which does not explicitly state that such headwear is allowed. She says that if people want to change the policy they should contact FIFA.
"They have to knock at FIFA's door," she said.
Quebec referees began cracking down on turbans, patkas and keskis — the religious headgear worn by Sikh men and boys — in the last year.
The decision to uphold the ban came despite a directive from the Canadian Soccer Association in April calling for provincial associations to allow them. An association representing Sikhs says it tried to reach a compromise but will now consider all options, including a legal challenge.
Frot said safety studies were done with the Muslim hijab and FIFA relaxed the rules for it afterward. She expects the same will eventually happen with turbans.
"We have an obligation as a federation to put player safety first," she said. "FIFA has done this work for the hijab and, when they've done it for the turban, I have no doubt that FIFA will put out a directive authorizing it and we'll be happy to follow suit."
Identity disputes are nothing new to Quebec. The issue of accommodating minorities was catapulted onto the political stage in 2007, when tabloid media carried sensational reports of religious minorities imposing their views on others.
The government promises a new charter of Quebec values, with paramount value accorded to secularism. The government, however, has signaled that its proposed secularism policy will not apply equally to all religions.
Muslim and Sikh headscarves, for instance, likely will be banned from public institutions under the proposed policy. On the other hand, the large Christian cross hanging over the Quebec legislature will get to stay.